God’s Eternal Blessing - Matthew 1:18-25

From the beginning of Matthew, God’s covenant with Abraham is in view. In fact, week-in and week-out as we study Matthew, it will keep coming up. That covenant was central to Hebrew belief and it was characterized by the hope of blessing. The Israelites or Hebrews, commonly referred to as “Jews” by the first century, were looking for and expecting blessing from God because of the covenant with Abraham.

God's Eternal Blessing - Matthew 1:18-25

They saw Abraham as their father, and therefore they were entitled to God promised him, blessing that would come by means of the eternal King promised to David. They expected the blessing in the form of earthly abundance brought about by this king who would be their Messiah – their Savior or Deliverer sent from God. The Messiah would conquer their enemies, win their freedom, and set up his Kingdom and then they could enjoy rich prosperity from God –  rich “blessing.”

They looked forward to this and found their identity in it. And who wouldn’t? Who doesn’t want to be blessed, and who doesn’t tend find their identity wrapped up the hope and enjoyment of the blessing they desire? You have your own idea of what “blessing” is for you – things you hope for. We think of blessing in terms of abundance in this earthly life. But something happens to us in our longing for and experience of blessing in our lives:

We naturally treat our earthly blessings as supreme. These things that we enjoy or long to enjoy essentially become “everything” to us. We fear losing them. We try to control things in order to protect them. We despair or get angry when they’re taken away from us. But while earthly blessing is good, it’s not supreme.

God reserves supreme blessing – ultimate and lasting blessing – for eternity with him. And since God reserves supreme blessing for eternity with him, we should rethink how we view our blessings, especially God’s eternal blessing. So how should we view God’s eternal blessing?  This account of the origin of Jesus Christ points out two things that only God’s eternal blessing can do, and interestingly, these are things we wish our earthly blessings could do: solve our greatest problem and fulfill our greatest longing.  So let’s look at these together.

First, Only God’s eternal blessing solves our greatest problem. (v.18-21)

It’s easy to underestimate how much the Jews desired a deliverer who would return them to the glory days of king David. It seemed that their greatest problem was the Roman Empire in the first century. Israel was no longer the free nation that it once was. They wanted to be free again. But God did not intend to return them to the glory days of David. He did not intend to establish that kind of kingdom again. He was establishing a new kind of kingdom. Jesus would say in John 18, “My kingdom is not of this world.” – a theme that runs through Matthew’s gospel.

Jesus is a different kind, a better kind, of king. And here Matthew gives the explanation of how this eternal king came to be. Verse [18] Now the birth (or “origin”) of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph,” Joseph and Mary were engaged to be married, but “before they came together” that is, before they consummated the marriage, “she was found to be with child” which would obviously be devastating, except that she was “with child from the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit of the living God was the origin or source of the child in her womb. The prophets had stated that the Holy Spirit would be at work during the time of the coming of the Messiah. Ezekiel said God was going to do something that could only be accomplished by the work of the Spirit.
Along those lines, the coming of the Messiah could only be accomplished in this way. Regarding Mary, at this point her pregnancy must have been physically obvious, and verse [19] “her husband Joseph” would resolve to divorce her. Today, if two people are engaged, we don’t refer to them as husband and wife. Engagement is a time when you can still back out of the marriage without divorce. But at that time, engagement or betrothal was a legally-binding pledge. It would take a divorce to break it. A woman becoming pregnant during the betrothal would be embarrassing, and not having conceived the child with her fiancée would be worse. So, “Joseph being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”

He was a righteous man, the Scripture says. He had no desire to publicly shame her. He was going to legally, privately, dissolve the marriage pledge. But verse [20] “as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. [21] She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  So much in these two verses. We see the “angel of the Lord” in Genesis and Exodus. This is a messenger from God. The messenger calls Joseph “son of David,” again emphasizing the lineage of the king.Mary had been chosen by God to carry a child produced by God’s Spirit. And Joseph would give him his name.

He should take Mary as his wife and this baby boy as his own son. The baby’s name would have special meaning, “he will save his people from their sins.” This is reminiscent of various Old Testament Scriptures. Psalm 130 says, “with Yahweh there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. [8] And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” Yahweh would save them from their sins. And Isaiah 53, a foretelling of the Messiah, Isaiah write [5] he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities…we have turned—every one—to his own way; and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” To be saved from their sins, Yahweh would have to lay the burden of their sins on Yahweh. God would have to take the burden of sin on himself. We saw some weeks back how in God’s covenant with Abraham, when the contract was made between them, God alone took upon himself the responsibility of keeping the covenant. God would lay down his life to keep it.

Here we see how Yahweh could come to earth to bear that burden, and lay down his life. But – as a Jew looking for the Messiah, living under the control of the Roman Empire in the first century, while your face would light up at the words “he will save his people” your excited look would probably turn to confusion at the words “from their sins” unless “from their sins” might mean that the sin which destroyed Israel and Judah as they knew it would be removed so that they could enjoy that kind of earthly life again. So that they could be blessed. But a blessing like that would only address their temporary problems. It wouldn’t address their greatest problem.

The greatest problem didn’t involve national freedom or land or possessions. Their problem is stated simply here. It is “their sins.”  They possessed a debt they could not pay. They possessed a condition that had destroyed their fellowship with the one true God. The blessings stated in Deut. 28 which they would enjoy if they kept God’s covenant as made with Moses were not in play anymore. They had incurred the curses of Deut. 28 because they abandoned God. They worshipped false gods and committed immorality for generations. The covenant with Moses, the giving of the law, was an expression of the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham, but it would not be the eternal expression of fulfillment because Israel had failed to keep the law. 

What we see as we go through Matthew is that this time, Israel does not fail. Why Because Israel, the son of Abraham, is Jesus Christ. And having been conceived by the Holy Spirit, he is God come to earth, and he has the power to succeed where the previous sons of Abraham had always failed. This would be the supreme blessing to solve their greatest problem.

You’ve heard, I’m sure, that you should “count your blessings.” The idea is to think about what you have – the good things in your life – and be thankful. And that’s good. We should do that. We might not count our blessings every day, but we do think about them. We think about how to get them, or keep them, how to protect them. We think about what it would be like to lose them. The thought of it strikes fear into our hearts. We worry about it. We lose sleep over it. We lash out in anger or bitterness toward people or even God if they are taken away. Or we doubt God’s goodness, and even his existence if we lose a blessing. Why? Without realizing it, the blessings become supreme in our hearts.

What earthly blessings might become supreme in your heart? Fill in this blank with your own blessing, and don’t say “God” or “Jesus.” “___________ is everything to me.” You might say, “Family is everything to me” or “My job is everything to me.” “My spouse is everything to me” or “My kids are everything to me.” “My health is everything to me.” “My dreams, my goals, my hopes for my life…these things are everything to me.” It could be some hobby, some recreation or leisure. Something you are passionate about. It could be that you are an American. It could be your political views. Regardless of what we say, the way we live our lives reflects what is “everything” to us. That which consumes our thoughts reflects what is “everything” to us. Your decisions reflect it. Your fears and emotions reflect it. Notice that I listed all good things. I didn’t bother with obviously sinful ones, although you might put something blatantly sinful in that blank. 

But of the good, earthly things we receive and enjoy from God, none are supreme. None of those should fill the highest position in your heart. Jesus came to save his people from the condition that causes us to give those things the highest position in our hearts. Sin in our greatest problem. Only God’s eternal blessing of redemption in Jesus Christ solves it. 

And not only that, but only his eternal blessing fulfills our greatest longing. (v.22-25)

This should cause you to think about your greatest longings. What do you long for? Is it permanent security, good health, justice for a wrong done to you? Is it vindication, that you would be proven right over something? Is it a title or position that you desire to hold in the eyes of other people? Is it respect, applause, affirmation, glory, fame? Or is it a perfect family and home – the idyllic picture of it that you have in your mind? Is it that some other person would change his or her ways to suit your desires? If you had more money, more security, more love, more respect, more control, then – then – you might think you could say, unequivocally, with no exceptions, “I am blessed.”

But that wouldn’t be the case. You could have all those things, and still, your greatest longing would not be met. It’s hard to imagine, because you want what you want so badly, it’s hard to believe something would still be missing. But something would, and Matthew states it here in verses 22-23. He writes of the virgin birth of Jesus, [22] All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: [23] “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). This is a prophecy that is recorded in Isaiah 7. It seems simple enough. A virgin would conceive a child. A supernatural miracle. And that child would be the Messiah.

But the context of the statement is loaded with meaning. Let me tell you the history of what was occurring when Isaiah proclaimed this. It was about 200 years after the death of King David. God’s people were going downhill. Israel was divided into two kingdoms: Israel to the north, Judah to the south. Judah contained Jerusalem and the true temple of God. The nation of Assyria wanted to conquer Israel and Judah, and everyone else in the world. Israel, to the north, was slipping into immorality and idol worship quicker than Judah. And to defend themselves from foreign nations, Israel made an alliance with Syria. 

Israel and Syria wanted Judah to join up with them against Assyria. And the king of Judah, king Ahaz, whom Matthew lists in verse 9, was terrified. He didn’t want to rely on God and walk by faith. And so, Ahaz made an alliance with Assyria. Instead of trusting in God, he trusts in the Assyrian king by buying that king’s protection. Ahaz even gave the precious contents of the temple to the Assyrian king to buy his help. And the prophet Isaiah tells Ahaz to even ask God for a sign that God would be with him. But Ahaz won’t do it. He had already made up his mind not to trust God. And so Isaiah tells him of a sign to come that God will be with his people. A child would one day be born of a virgin and called Immanuel or “God with us.” The fact that the sign is a baby speaks directly to the faulty reasoning of Ahaz. Couldn’t God send a plague on the enemies of Judah or give strength to Ahaz’s army? Babies are weak and helpless. You don’t take little babies with you into battle. You put your strength forward. You send your most powerful soldiers. The child was a reminder of what Ahaz should have known: that God’s people depend on him like a baby depends on its mother. God fights the battles for his people.

This is what the Philistines learned when they sent Goliath to defeat God’s people. God intentionally defeated Goliath through a young boy named David, who would be the king. Incidentally, that’s not a story about you slaying the giants in your life. God is the giant slayer. He’s slays the greatest giant – your sin – through his great King, Jesus. The sign of the virgin birth would demonstrate that God would fulfill his plans through weakness; ultimately, through the death of the Messiah on the cross. And in doing so, he would fulfill our greatest longing: God with us.

I’ve noticed a common prayer among people – that God would be with them. You’ll especially hear young children pray this.  It’s a good prayer. It reveals the deepest longing of the heart. That idea comes through at the end of the Scriptures. The next to last chapter: Revelation 21. The apostle John writes his vision of the last day, the second coming of Jesus Christ. He says, 
[1] I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Our deepest longing is the security, comfort, and peace of knowing that no matter what, God is most certainly with us – he is for us and not against us. That is the longing that Jesus came to fulfill. And we see in verses 24-25 that Joseph obeyed God.

The earthly gifts of God are good. We shouldn’t scoff at God’s earthly blessings. James 1 says, [17] Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” We shouldn’t take them for granted. But neither should we worship them. They are not God. Only God is God. Do you recognize God as your greatest longing, or have you replaced him with something else, even some good thing he provides?

As we go to the table today, we see the visible signs of what Christ did to pay for our natural tendency to make earthly blessing supreme, elevating God’s gifts above God himself in our hearts. Let’s pray and go to the table now.